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Back in February, JB Personal Training had a visit from Radio 4's Today programme.  The much respected journalist and former BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson came to one of our Ultrabox classes to sample the views of our fitness community on the EU referendum.

Four months later, it felt a little strange returning to the hall synonymous with our exercise classes to cast my referendum vote. The award-winning Lydiard Millicent Parish Hall is one of the many community buildings acting as local polling stations.

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Nick's visit had been inspiring in itself.  I have huge admiration for the way he has bounced back from a battle with lung cancer.  I have even more respect for his courage in taking on one of our Ultrabox class regulars!  (You don't mess with these ladies - one of them recently chased a pair of marauding youths for a good mile and a half, very confident she could look after herself, despite being in her sixth decade).

 

There are two equally valid philosophies underpinning the opposing sides of the referendum debate.  The first, used by the Remain campaign, is the belief that we are "stronger together".  The second, as posited by the Leave side, promotes taking control of our own destiny.  

The EU referendum debate has been framed in such a way to suggest these philosophies are mutually exclusive.  Luckily, in our everyday lives, and specifically as far as our health and fitness is concerned, this is not the case.

When it comes to transforming your nutrition and exercise habits, your friends can't do the hard work for you. They can't eject you from the couch and make you take that first step. Ultimately, you must deeply want to, and also be ready, to change.  The initial desire and motivation has to come from within.  When the going gets tough, the voice inside your head willing you to stop will be louder than any around you.  Whether you continue to be a slave to bad health and excess weight, or bite the bullet and become the best possible version of yourself - you are the one who has to take control and shape your own destiny.

Nonetheless, the camaraderie and support of like-minded peers can prove invaluable in improving adherence to a healthier lifestyle.  This is unquestionable, as illustrated by the success of the fantastic women in our JB fitness community.  United by the common goal of improving their fitness and losing weight, they have achieved feats they never dreamed possible, from running marathons to fitting into clothes sizes they haven't worn in decades.  They help each other through the rough times and collectively celebrate their achievements - the embodiment of "stronger together".

Whilst debates such as that of the EU referendum often polarise and divide, there are fundamental truths we should accept from both sides. 

And when it comes to improving your health and fitness, you might get there by going it alone, but it is a whole lot easier making that journey with friends.

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In this first of a series of blog posts on nutrition, we will be begin to explore the three main food groups (also known as macronutrients). We will examine what they are, why the body needs them, and the implications for your everyday eating habits.

Today we are going to start with carbohydrates - the hardest food type to avoid, and commonly misunderstood.

So - what are carbohydrates?  Well, in chemical terms,  carbohydrates (CHO) are molecules which contain a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

There are two main types of carbohydrate.  Simple carbohydrates, also known as sugars, are single units of glucose or fructose (C6H12O6) which have a ring like structure .  Complex carbohydrates, also known as starches, are polymers, or chains, of several sugar units stitched together. Complex carbohydrates are found in potato, bread, pasta, rice etc.  Simple carbohydrates are found in sugar, honey, fruit etc.

Regardless of whether a carbohydrate starts off as complex or simple when it enters the mouth, the digestive process converts all carbohydrates into glucose so that it can be absorbed by the body.

Digestion of carbohydrates begins as soon as the food enters the mouth. As we chew, enzymes in our saliva start the job of breaking down the carbohydrate molecules.

The process continues in the stomach, where the sugar is absorbed into our bloodstream.  If this sugar is not used fully by the body for energy during a short space of time (for example to fuel exercise), then it has to be stored somewhere in the body.

The body will firstly turn the spare glucose into glycogen, a process which involves the retention of a large amount of water. The glycogen is stored in your muscles and liver.  If your glycogen stores are full, you will look puffier (often noticeable in the face) largely due to the water retention.

If your glycogen stores are full, the body has to store the glucose in some other way.  This is when any surplus glucose will be converted into fat.

Most of the fat on our bodies is created this way, not from the direct consumption of fat in our diet. This is a crucial point to understand, as it is the reason why “low fat” products do not help us lose weight.

The same process happens in reverse when we lose weight.  We will burn off our glycogen stores first, then once these are empty we will start to burn fat for energy. However, emptying your glycogen stores is harder than you may realise. If they are completely full to begin with, it can take the equivalent of an entire half-marathon to completely deplete your glycogen. So for most people, in reality the aim is to gradually deplete the stores over a the course of a number of days.  In a typical scenario of sensible eating and exercise at a sustainable level, it may take around a week to get to the point where your glycogen stores are depleted and you start burning significant amounts of fat. However, you will actually lose more weight in that first week than in the following weeks. As you use up the glycogen, you will be releasing all the water stored with it, resulting in dramatic initial weight loss.

In general, the less processed the carbohydrate, and the more fibre and fat also contained within the foodstuff, the longer the process of digestion takes, and the more gradually the energy is released into our bloodstream. This makes it more likely that you will burn the energy released as you go along, avoiding the storage of excess energy as fat.

So how much carbohydrate should we consume? Well, it is definitely not healthy to eliminate carbohydrate altogether, or go on an extreme low-carb diet, such as Atkins, for a number of reasons.

  1. Our brain needs carbohydrate for fuel – carbohydrate is the only form of energy that the brain can use.
  2. Fat burns in a carbohydrate flame. Without the presence of some carbohydrate in your diet, your metabolism slows down and the body is not able to process fat as effectively.
  3. Lots of nutrient-packed foods, such as fruit, contain mainly carbohydrate, so if we avoided all these foods we would be limiting our intake of important vitamins and minerals.
  4. Variety is positive.  Healthy nutritional habits will only be sustained if they are enjoyable and do not become too monotonous.

So which carbohydrate foods should you use as your main source of carbohydrates, and which should you avoid?

In our next nutrition blog post, we'll recommend which carbohydrate dense foods to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce, in your diet.  In their place, we will be introducing you too a whole host of more colourful alternatives!

 
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The Christmas party season is fast approaching and we all naturally want to look great at this time of year.  Reducing bloating can make a huge difference to how you look - and more importantly feel - on a night out.  The good news is that we can significantly reduce abdominal distension with some simple measures which will also contribute to reducing bodyfat percentage. So you don't have to rely on body shaping underwear!

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    1. Reduce your salt intake
      Excess salt consumption will force the body to retain more water to regulate sodium levels, leading to a distended abdomen. Adults should eat no more than 2.4g of sodium per day, which is equal to 6g of salt. However, packaged and processed foods commonly contain such high amounts of salt that 75% of the average salt intake is from everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereal and ready meals. Reducing processed foods will therefore make a huge difference to how bloated you feel.
    2. Drink more water
      It may seem counter-intuitive, but increasing your water intake can actually help to reduce bloating, as dehydration causes the kidneys to signal to the rest of the body to retain water.
    3. Eat More Slowly
      This will reduce the amount of air you swallow, reducing bloating. It also gives the signals from the gut which indicate fullness longer to reach the brain - so you will be less likely to overeat!
    4. Exercise More!
      Regular exercise stimulates peristalsis, the muscular movement of the gut which moves food along the digestive tract.  It will definitely get your bowels moving!
    5. Eat Less Bread!
      Even if you are not gluten intolerant, bread can be a major cause of bloating. It delivers a triple whammy of high carbohydrate content causing water retention, yeast releasing gas in the gut and (in the case of processed sliced bread) surprisingly high salt content. Cut it out for a few days and feel the difference! Read more in our blog article "Bread: Less is More"
 
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Have you been running for over a year and reached the point where your race times have plateaued? Are you frustrated with not being able to break through a personal best and not sure what to do about it?

Well, open any running magazine and you will find an article advising you to add resistance training to your weekly schedule to improve your running.  Typically, there may be photos of half a dozen exercises and bullet point instructions on how to perform them.  Whilst this advice is usually perfectly valid (resistance training will definitely improve your running), it may not be straightforward to complete in practice.

If you are new to resistance exercise, it takes quite a lot of mental effort to organise.  First of all, where to complete it?  Working out at home can be far from ideal, with lots of distractions and often not enough room.  Gyms are not everyone's cup of tea, and an expensive option if you don't plan to use them more than once a week.  Secondly, as you may not be familiar with the exercises themselves, you may find yourself struggling to refer to written instructions whilst performing the exercises.  Looking in a mirror can help to see if your form is correct, but even then you may not be confident that you are performing them correctly.  This can be of particular concern for an exercise such as a lunge, which has a relatively high risk of injury if performed with bad technique. 

Even if you persevere with these obstacles, traditional resistance sessions with multiple sets take around an hour to complete, which can be an issue to many with increasingly busy lives.  Moreover, many women are social creatures and may not be attracted to the idea of working out on their own, finding it harder to stay motivated to complete the session.

However, many people don't realise that resistance training does not necessarily mean just training with weights.  In fact, runners can get the huge benefits of weight training without using any equipment at all.

The group fitness class Metafit is the hassle free alternative to traditional resistance training for running.  It uses exclusively bodyweight exercises and takes only 30 mins, with the added bonuses of expert instruction to ensure your technique is correct and a whole room full of like-minded women to support and motivate you.  The emphasis is on lower body and core exercises that will improve your muscular endurance (and tone your legs, bum and tum in the process). This helps you maintain good running form for longer, enabling you to run further and more efficiently, whilst also reducing the risk of injury.  The Metafit format includes a 5 minutes warm-up to get the blood flowing and loosen the joints, followed by the main workout section which is typically around 22 mins. This is followed by a series of stretching exercises to improve your flexibility.  As a form of high intensity interval training, Metafit offers the same benefits of anaerobic training that you get from tempo and fartlek runs. Your lung capacity will increase as will your "lactic tolerance", a measure of how much exercise you can complete before your legs feel very heavy and you struggle to continue.

So if you struggle to motivate yourself to do fartlek or tempo runs every week, Metafit classes are a great alternative. After a couple of months, you'll feel fitter than ever and it could well be the key to unlocking that PB!

JB Personal Training run Metafit classes on Tuesday evenings at 6:15pm and Friday mornings at 7am in Lydiard Millicent near Swindon. For full details and online booking, visit our group class listings page.

P.S. If you aren't able to make a group class, but still love the idea of using bodyweight exercises to improve your running, then as an alternative I would highly recommend You Are Your Own Gym: The bible of bodyweight exercises which explains all the key bodyweight exercises with variations for different fitness levels.

 
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See the 2015 Run JB team featured at 06:44 in the above video!

 
Just over a year ago - when I measured my running distance by counting lampposts – if anyone had told me I would be running three 9km cross country circuits as part of a relay team in a non-stop 24 hour marathon, I would have dismissed it as madness: at that time, I was struggling to run for more than a couple of kilometres without feeling that I was going die!  And so, covering more than a half marathon in distance terms, as well running not only in daylight but in the pitch black, would have seemed completely farfetched and ridiculous.

But on July 25th, as part of an inspirational Run JB team, we achieved that goal: not only taking part in the Cotswold 24 Hour Relay Race, but winning our group entry, achieving the first placed female team in any category, and overall 39th place out of 119 teams, beating many mixed gender as well as all male teams.

Credit for this achievement must go to Shona, who was confident, not only  that we should do it, but also that we could do it,  and  who, with gentle persuasion put together a team of eight Run JB members, of different ages and abilities, who thought they would give it a go.

The Cotswold 24 Hour Relay Race involves individuals or teams, running as many 9km circuits as they can in 24 hours. The setting is the lovely Bathurst Estate near Cirencester and the route takes you through beautiful Cotswold countryside, woods and roads. There is free camping with showers and ice baths, on site sports massage, and a central area with a 24 hour “healthy” food outlet, table and chairs, and a small stage for entertainment. However the hub is the start/finish line, where relay team members exchange their baton. We were each given a “timing chip” to lace to our trainers which recorded our progress and could be monitored on a live feed.

Our first runner was Amy who set off in lovely sunshine at midday. We cheered Amy out and were tremendously excited to cheer her back in a fantastic time, to pass the baton to Manda. And so we followed Shona’s running plan – Amy, Manda, Barbara, Emma, Emma, June, Jess, Shona - cheering everyone out and back, and keeping tabs on the times and kilometres covered. Jules kept us motivated and nourished (“Hydrate! Hydrate!”). Various friends, spouses and partners dropped by to offer their support. Musicians entertained us on the stage. Barbara did her warm up to a musical accompaniment in front of the crowd, and drew appreciative applause for her great moves! Emma got some great photos and uploaded them to Facebook as the event unfolded.

The course turned out to be more challenging than we thought- lots of long grass in the fields, quite a few hills, gravelly wooded areas and a long slow climb just before the finish. But it was quite beautiful, and our fellow runners were friendly and supportive. We got to recognise some of the other teams, in particular the arch rivals in our category - “The Crazy Chicks”!  Shona followed their progress, and initially they seemed faster, but soon we were alongside in terms of time/distance.

Even as it got dark team JB was cheering its relay runners out and back. Running at night was magical- head torches danced around in the darkness, overhead was a gorgeous canopy of stars, and the quiet and stillness was only broken by the breathing of another runner as you passed him or he passed you. Runners chatted with you and shared their reasons for being there and how or their team was coping.

With the coming of dawn, and despite tiredness, and lack of sleep, on we went. Sunday morning brought the rain, a downpour; we got drenched but kept running. By now we were getting excited about the possible result. And and sure enough, by Sunday midday, the race was over, we had covered 207km, and we had won.  We received our medals, and at 1pm, were presented with our winners’ trophies.

And while the result was a joy, by far the best part of this whole experience was being part of a wonderful, inspiring, supportive team – Run JB - the only team cheering their runners out and back, even at night, even in torrential rain. This is what made it possible.

It was an exhilarating experience- I shall never forget it. The feel good was so intense that I did not notice aches or pains, tiredness, lack of sleep, or even missing toenails!

And if you are reading this thinking, “I couldn’t do that” or “that’s not for me”, please reconsider- if I can do it, you can do it.

Plus, we need to challenge those Crazy Chicks again next year..... Go Team JB!

 
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